The underlying drive and purpose of the musical Ursa:
Unabashedly drawing upon the universal power of traditional folklore, this take on the genre is as immediately relatable as it is provocatively unusual. Ursa speaks to the restlessness many young people growing up in the present moment must navigate; how this anxiety complicates their relationships; and the catharsis they feel as they accept the ways they grow and change throughout early adulthood.
We (Jake Schindler and Sam Boer) are new generation songwriters, composers, and performers who share both a love of folk music and a passion for musical theatre. We believe in creating versatile theatre that inspires a broader audience to engage with this art form. We achieve this by pushing traditional theatre boundaries and conventions, prioritizing a show’s adaptability to different spaces and contexts, and presenting universal themes through unusual, intimate stories.
For over a decade, we have been producing and performing in live events. As a music director both in Toronto and London (Ontario), Jake has 6 years of experience in casting shows, hiring and working with musicians, and collaborating closely with technical theatre staff. In 2019, Jake produced his first full length musical, “Where do we Begin?”, at the Spriet Family Theatre in London to a sold out run. As a producer, this included building a creative team, rehearsing and performing as the music director, working with the venue, paying artists, advertising the show on social media, and selling tickets. Jake’s audio musical “The Light Goes Round,” which was showcased at the Toronto Fringe’s Community Booster, achieved a high level of artistic and technical quality on a limited budget.
Sam’s self-produced debut album (under the moniker Samson Wrote), Pigeon, funded in part by the Ontario Arts Council, received a Canadian Folk Music Awards nomination and was praised by Exclaim! as “prolific and expansive.” He has done significant organizational work in the arts, having composed, recorded, and toured across Canada with groups like The Lifers and Run Coyote, performing at cross-Canada festivals including Hillside, Mariposa, Flourish, and Summerfolk. For 10+ years, Sam has produced over 100 music concerts across genres (from folk to electronic) in venues of all shapes and sizes, from living rooms to theatres to community spaces to warehouses, honing his ability to enhance the effect of a performance based on its unique environment. In 2020, through the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, Sam hired artists, resolved technical issues, and internationally promoted a 24-hour online improvisational festival entitled IF 2021.
We are influenced by our mutual love of iconic Canadian folk music, and the transformative experiences we’ve had at great concerts. We believe that these events have a distinct ability to bring people together and usher in a sense of belonging and inclusivity. By grounding Ursa as a concert experience, we intend to challenge the conventions of both musical theatre and folk music performances, offering a dynamic hybrid that incorporates elements of both. At the heart of our work, we want to bring together these related but often separated worlds, providing accessible, versatile shows that feel like folk concerts, tell stories like musical theatre, and invite our audiences to experience something both familiar and brand new.
The story of Ursa: A Folk Musical
The story of Ursa: A Folk Musical is not your average theatre narrative. Just as this show pushes beyond the conventions of both a folk concert and a musical to deliver something deliciously new, it was created by removing all the norms of musical theatre writing and, instead, asking the question: what if the development of a musical felt more like starting a garage band? What if, instead of doling out book, lyrics, and music responsibilities to various parties and adhering what’s always been done, they collaborated on every aspect of the show, following a process that felt more like that of a local band jamming relentlessly until they got an album’s worth of songs, refined them relentlessly, and suddenly got their big break at a major festival?
This, in a metaphorical nutshell, is how Ursa: A Folk Musical was created. Jake Schindler (a theatre lover, with a passion for folk music) reached out to Sam Boer (a touring folk musician, with a passion for musical theatre) decided to dedicate their respective decades of divergent experience—and sheer enthusiasm—to writing a folk concert/musical theatre hybrid. They would eschew conventional roles and, instead, work together on the book, lyrics, music, arrangements, and every administrative aspect of the show, agreeing to create and refine until they had crafted a finished show. They would meet over Zoom every week, using this show as an anchor throughout the pandemic. And, eventually, they would bring on a talented array of up-and-coming top-notch-talented friends—old and new—to jam the show with them, democratically refining the show. When opportunity first knocked, in the form of the Watershed Theatre Festival at Queen’s, the team was ready; when the second knock came, and the Fringe NextStage Festival was at the door, the team was overjoyed. All those late nights of jamming had been worth it.
It makes sense that Ursa came together through scrappy enthusiasm and the dedication of many up-and-coming theatre artists, as the show revolves around themes of youthful ambition, friendship, and trying to overcome anxiety and depression in order to experience the joys of being alive. Through the fabricated folktale featuring Ursa (a small-town Ontario teenager restless adventure) and the peculiar, lonely bear she meets (a bear that was abandoned at a young age, and has never met another bear), this fantastical show provocatively articulates the mixed-up and torn feelings of being young, wanting change, and struggling to make it happen. Whether weighed down by seasonal affective disorder or wanting to keep running for fear of slowing down and feeling anxiety creep back in, everyone who has been through their late teens and early twenties can relate to the feeling of being unable to make it through, whatever their barriers may be. But, as both this show and the creative process behind it demonstrate, open-hearted friendships can bring about extraordinary happiness, combat hopelessness, and, ultimately, make something wonderful happen.
This concept for the show was initially inspired by a fairly universal feeling: when you're at an amazing concert, and the performer delivers an amazing bit of banter and then delivers a song that wows the whole audience, and you feel completely whole with the crowd, immersed in the feeling of being a part of live music taking place. We wanted to bring that feeling to a musical theatre show, making all audience members feel united and included through the universality of folk music, bringing conventional musical theatre crowds people who would tend to go to indie band shows, and families who prefer folk festivals, together to experience something new that stretches these boundaries.
Our show was inspired by personal experiences dealing with both clinical anxiety and depression, as well as good ol' youthful restlessness, at the cusp of young adulthood in a time when the world is, both metaphorically and literally, falling apart. We wanted to share this experience in a completely honest and inviting way, using a fantastical metaphorical story to get at the uniquely challenging experience that our generation (and even moreso, this next generation) is facing in their late teens and early twenties.